Flute Retuning: Though you might improve your flute by the means set out below, if
the scale is particularly bad, you might also think about changing the flute. If
on the other hand, it seems just a little out, you could try improving the tuning
yourself. There are two possibilities:- one is to do this using the RCS set out below;
the other is to put plastic putty in those holes which seem the sharpest, thus bringing
them in line with the in-tune notes. Making the tone holes smaller with putty will
make little difference to the tone if only a small amount is used.
To use the RCS, you will need:- A craft knife; a good screwdriver which will
perfectly fit the screws and rods of your flute; a piece of wooden dowel about 3/8ths
inch (10-15mm) which will fit inside your flute of about 20 inches (50cm) long;
a two foot steel rule (about 60cm); plasticene, playdo or children's modelling clay
and epoxy paste. You are better off with a 'Vernier guage' too; this will measure
accurately the diameters of the tone holes. Mark up the dowel with the Revised Cooper's
Scale using the rule and a craft knife to make sharp, thin lines across the dowel
(see diagram 1 below). It is not easy to do this accurately by eye, but always look
directly down on the rule to estimate the fractions of millimetres, and with care,
you will get to within 0.2 or 0.3 of a mm, which will be enough to do a rough but
reasonable retuning job. Carefully mark the dowel crossways so as to make these marks
easily seen inside the flute. When the mechanism is removed and the dowel is put
into the flute, you will see which tone holes are too sharp or too flat. Although
the flat ones can't be moved without major rebuilding, the sharp holes can be temporarily
made flat with playdo or kid's modelling clay just to establish if this procedure
has improved the intonation. (see diagram below). In effect, what you are doing is
making all the sharper notes flatter to match the others. Later, if after playing
on it for a few days this retuning experiment makes a difference to you, the flute
can be more permanently tuned with epoxy resin paste to replace the playdo. The interior
of each tone hole will need cleaning with spirit and lightly scratched to assist
in the adhesion of the paste. Even then, the amount of resin can be altered later
by filing or cutting, as you become more experienced in this technique.
The other way is simply to flatten the notes which need altering according to
your written notes first with playdo. Then play the flute for a few days and then
recheck using harmonics once again. Using either playdo or more permanent epoxy putty
will not damage your flute in any way.
If the scale is very defective though, it is better to change the flute.
Note that if you are used to a faulty scale, you can still play it reasonably well
in tune in slow pieces with clever use of the embouchure and, like most people, you
can also get used to the out-of-tuneness, perhaps even thinking it is other players
who are wrong. It is extraordinary how many of our commercial CDs - by celebrated
performers - have poor intonation and how common it is to hear a sharp C#2 & C#3,
a flat D3 and sharp Eb3 and E3. The performer becomes used to hearing it like that.
The diagram below may help in understanding the geography of the tuning procedure
and the lower diagram shows where the putty should be inserted.
Our Advice on Buying a new Flute. Enquire from the maker whether they make open and
closed hole flutes to different scales. Though they may be famous, reputable and
long established, if they do not, try elsewhere.
Don't go 'gold' mad. Currently, a very fine performing flute is available worldwide
and is silver plated nickel silver. The market price of precious metals is not governed
Use the checks above to find out how the flute scale has been devised. Be careful
of the company who claims to have their 'own scale', unless it is carefully checked
using the method above.
Treat the head joint and flute as separate items. It may be a good head joint,
or it may be ordinary. Test them separately. Usually, the head joint is made in a
different part of the factory, and only meets its mate at the final stages of assembly.
A violinist never buys a 'violin outfit'; the bow and violin are purchased separately.
Some dealers and makers allow the flute to be purchased separately from the headjoint,
a sensible arrangement. With pressure from the purchaser, others may follow. Test
a new head joint on a flute you are familiar with.
5. A Plea to Teachers, Players and Makers.
This article is not written in anger but in desperation. We three have many friends
who are teachers, players and makers and we value that friendship. Though many years
have passed since the first Cooper Scale was introduced, some improvements to it
have taken place, but not universally. We three have all been involved in flute engineering
and are wholly aware of the problems of re-tooling when changing the flute scale.
We fully appreciate it is a very expensive exercise and would need careful consideration
for commercial reasons. We just want to see some movement so that, on the other end
of the spectrum, the performing level of our craft will improve. At every class we
three teach, there are defective flutes being played, an intolerable situation.
Teachers: Please help your students obtain a flute with a reasonable scale. Then
teach young players how to control the pitch of a note to play correctly in tune.
If you don't know, find out. This will lead to greater expression, more interesting
concerts and will bring us in line with the rest of the woodwind and strings. You
owe it to your students. In later life, let them look back at you as an enlightened
teacher who gave them a head start in a competitive world. It is to your shame if
you do not.
Players: Please check your flutes. The checking process requires patience. When
in doubt, seek advice. Ask your flute maker about open and closed hole scales. You
are the ones who can change the current state of flute making by demanding a better
instrument. Read behind the wording in their brochures and their claims. Demand answers
- whether in platinum, gold or nickel silver! You are the customer.
Makers: Please check out our RCS 2012. It may not be completely perfect yet but
it is better than the flute scales you are using. All guitar makers use the same
logical fret positions and they wouldn't sell any if they didn't, so why not flute
makers? Please use closed hole and open hole corrections; it makes life easier for
us teachers and players.
We three believe that there is a desperate need to have someone in your workshop
who is a fine player, has an open mind and possessed of very good ears and who is
enthusiastic about engineering. Such players are out there. You listen too much to
performers whose intonation skills may not always match their fame.
Finally. Flute makers seem more interested in the fine engineering and the cosmetics
of their craft. While we are still buying their flutes, why should they worry? One
flute maker wrote recently, 'No worries! We're selling lots of flutes whether the
scale could be improved or not'. Another is reliably reported to have said last year,
'We sell many precious metal flutes to Asian countries. We must be getting it right'
No, you are not. It is the makers, the players and the teachers who are getting it
wrong. They and you, just don't know.
A well-known maker threatened legal action to one of us for remarks made during
a master class. As a lawyer remarked to me, ‘'That usually suggests you may be right'.
The Revised Scale 2012. A=441 Updated January 2014
This is based on an octave scale length from C1- C2 of 324.1mm. This is adequate
for playing at 440-442cps. A sharper scale for 443-444 will be available soon.
Instructions:- To check a flute or to mark up a stick:- measure your tone hole diameters
to see if they are close to, or the same as those in the first column. Read the
figures in the column which describes your flute, A, B or C. The large C# (B/C# trill)
has also been shown. On a C foot, the end of the flute is C natural and on a B foot,
the end of the flute is B or 0.00. The key cup rise should be 3.8mm in the foot and
right hand; 3.4mm in the left. This is larger than customary but important for both
pitch and tone.
Since the calculation of this scale, we have corrected some notes slightly after
performing trials. These notes are now incorporated into the figures set out below.
(This hole position has been revised (sharpened by 0.5mm) after a
lot of testing and experiments, to address the slightly flat octave. The tone hole
should also be undercut all round, but the diameter of the top of the hole should
remain at 6.7mm)
(This tone hole should be deeper than the others by 0.5mm and the key opened to 3.5mm
above the tone hole) This is important.
The 'End Correction' (the distance from the end of the flute to the centre of the
low C# hole): 7mm. This figure has already been added to the final figures.
The open hole corrections (Eldred Spell, March 2011) E: 1.7mm; F: 1.25mm; F#: 1.25mm;
A: 1.12mm; A#: 1.1mm.
To check your flute against the figures above: Use large size Vernier calipers and
sharpen, by filing, the fixed inside edge so as to make a sharp edge for an accurate
reading against the inside face of each tone hole.
Measure the diameter of each tone hole north to south and east to west (this is to
check if both are identical). If the tone hole diameters differ from those given
above, a correction should be made, though most flutes will correspond. (A tiny difference
is not important). Now measure each tone hole from the end of the foot to the inside
(south) edge of each hole. Add the radius (half the diameter) to this figure. This
gives the distance from the end of the foot to the centre of each hole. Compare with
the figures above.
William Bennett, Eldred Spell and Trevor Wye. January 2014